By Erica Pierre-Pierre on August 26, 2022
Article originally published at

For the past several weeks, Awesome Arts en folie has been partnering with the Vanier community for an eight-week-long celebration of arts. Operating at both the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa’s Don McGahan Clubhouse and the new outdoor Vanier HUB, children, youth, adults and seniors in Vanier have been invited to partake in a vast assortment of creative programs, from videography to songwriting to mural painting!

The initiative is presented by the Multicultural Arts for Schools and Communities (MASC), an Ottawa-based organization that started 32 years ago to celebrate the arts and diversity. While Awesome Arts has historically been offered in Sandy Hill and Lowertown, this summer marks the first time the program has taken place in Vanier.

Apt613 spoke with key members involved in the initiative’s Vanier roll-out to get a flavour of how the collaboration came about, what’s been going on these past several weeks, and what Ottawa residents can look forward to in the days ahead.

Under the banner of MASC, Awesome Arts was born of a vision to effect more targeted community change. As a testament to its widespread success, the program received the International Spotlight Award presented by the American National Arts and Humanities Youth program in November 2017 — the United States’ biggest prize for after-school arts and humanities programs directed toward underserved youth.

Awesome Arts en folie 2022. Photo provided by MASC.

“The idea behind Awesome Arts was to focus on a particular neighbourhood,” explains Jessica Ruano, MASC’s Community Program and Communications Director, “to address issues that were important to the people who live there through the arts.”

The decision to expand specifically to Vanier this summer came from a previous interest in the community and the persistent efforts of local changemakers such as Tom Radford of the Vanier HUB.

A community centre in its fourth year of operation, “the HUB” routinely offers free activities to youth like pop-up skateboard nights and movie nights — complimentary popcorn included.

In large part, the idea behind the HUB was to “develop programming space where events and programming and cultural activities and the cultural economy can thrive,” says Radford.

“You see each other on the street, but a space like the HUB allows those people to come together, so it humanizes our neighbourhood, it allows for connections and shared experience; what we really strive for is a greater sense of social cohesion in our neighbourhood, so it’s just bringing people together.”

Awesome Arts en folie 2022. Photo provided by MASC.

The beats are definitely bumping on a sunny Saturday afternoon as a crowd gathers to witness a b-boy dance-off in full swing. Punctuated by bright, beautifully painted shipping containers, this space loudly proclaims inclusivity, self-expression and good cheer — easy to see why a partnership with Awesome Arts made perfect sense.

“I’ve known Tom for many years, and I know that he is so passionate about his Vanier community, and he puts on some darn good events, so I thought, you know we were really hoping to bring this program to a new community,” says Ruano of how the collaboration ultimately fell into place this past spring.

In addition to their mutual vision for Vanier, the HUB and the many other partners of Awesome Arts are aligned in their commitment to removing barriers to access, be these social, geographical or financial. Indeed, in being open to participants of all ages, Awesome Arts’ programming fosters intergenerational collaboration. In true Ottawa fashion, the program is also offered in both French and English. Moreover, Awesome Arts intentionally operates in community centres easily accessed by walking, and is 100% subsidized and endowed with generous grants from all three levels of government.

“Bringing art to youth in communities that don’t have the opportunity to work alongside professional artists, especially recognized professional artists from the city of Ottawa,” is one of the program’s main commitments, says local hero JustJamaal ThePoet.

The artist, whose impressive resume includes serving as Ottawa’s poet laureate from 2017 to 2019, has been working with MASC for the past 10 years. As a facilitator for Awesome Arts in Vanier, ThePoet explains that while he had initially intended to teach youth how to write a song and create an accompanying music video this summer, “a transformation occurred” when he and his colleagues touched down in Vanier.

“When you want to step into a community, you’ve got to know how to speak their language,” he notes. “When you’re trying to bring art which, you know, is universal in its essence, to communities, you’ve gotta learn what is attractive about art; you need to know the threads that interweave those attractions for people.”

Awesome Arts en folie 2022. Photo provided by MASC.

The artist found that he could connect with Vanier youth through their deep love of sports, and – in a remix of his previous repertoire — his workshop evolved into the creation of a spoken word documentary.

For ThePoet, the hope is that the project gives space to these budding artists to see the importance and power of their unique and authentic stories:

“When young people want to create a piece of art, I think sometimes they think it needs to be chart-topping, or it needs to be viral for the message, for the impact to be felt, but when you get a chance to inspire youth and tell them that their messages, their stories are important, and if it doesn’t go viral that’s not what’s relevant,” he says, “what’s a priority is you’re getting an opportunity to tell your story.”

These stories, along with the many others cultivated and curated over the past several weeks, will be showcased at the program’s capstone event on Friday, August 26 beginning at 6pm at the Vanier HUB. This celebration is free for Ottawa residents near and far to attend!